No, it’s not burnout. Or lack of information. Or even poverty, fatigue, back pain or any of the many other problems and afflictions that we care-givers are heir to. It’s not even guilt. It’s that we need to be more selfish than we are.
We think we’re too selfish, and often feel ashamed about it. But the truth is that care-givers get out of the habit of taking care of themselves. Here’s how it works: you find the whole thing almost impossibly hard; yet other care-givers do it without complaining or giving up; so there must be something wrong with you; and you drive yourself on; until you’re ready to drop.
This is why the title of my new book is The Selfish Pig’s Guide to Caring (the title of the U.S. edition will be The Selfish Pig’s Guide to Caregiving). It isn’t for people who really are selfish pigs. It’s for care-givers who need, for a change, to think about themselves.
We didn’t apply for the job of care-giver. Most of us don’t have a vocation for it. We’ve had no training. We’re certain we aren’t much good at it. Plus, and this is the nub of the matter, we’ve got our own life to lead. Are we expected to throw that away because of somebody else’s disability? We’ve got things to do, places to go. And now it looks as if we might not be able to.
But aren’t we just as important as they are? Why are we expected to sacrifice ourselves for somebody else? And yes, I mean sacrifice. We’re not talking about giving up five minutes of time once or twice a week. Or putting off a vacation from this year to next. We’re talking about changing our entire way of life. The old one wasn’t perfect, but it was the best we could do. This new one isn’t even ours. It’s somebody else’s life. And it’s one that doesn’t suit us at all.
It isn’t fair!
Sure, sure, sure. I’m not going to argue with you. All I’m going to say is that none of this makes you a selfish pig. Well, you’ve got this far, anyway. This probably means that you’re caring for someone. Or thinking about caring for someone. Selfish pigs don’t do that. They get somebody else to do their dirty work. Or they just turn their backs on the problem and walk away.
So what are you, if you’re not a selfish pig? A reluctant caregiver?
No, you’re just the average caregiver. The reason you aren’t aware that you’re walking down a well-trodden path is because caregivers don’t get much publicity. Or attention. When someone pushes a wheelchair through a crowd, it’s the wheelchair that attracts the sideways glances. Or which causes passers-by to look politely away. In either case, the person who’s doing the pushing is invisible. Those people in the crowd don’t spare the caregiver a thought. Be fair, did you ever, before you became a caregiver?
No. So what goes on in the minds and deep dark despairing souls of the caregivers is a complete unknown. Except to other caregivers. They know. They’ve been there.
Did you really think all those other caregivers were doing it because it’s what they always aspired to? Maybe they won the big prize in a competition? Or saved up for years so that finally they could take up this glamorous way of life?
And do you somehow believe they’re better at it than you?
Hang on, I know what you think. You’ve convinced yourself that they’re better than you, period. That someone who cares for another human being, long-term, is a better person than you are.
Well, all I can say to that is Ha! The only difference between them and you is that they’re a bit further ahead, that’s all. They kept walking down the path that you’re just starting out on, and along the way they discovered things. They didn’t have any training or vocation or special ability. They aren’t more capable of loving. They most decidedly are NOT less selfish. They’re exactly the same as you. Just more experienced at being caregivers, that’s all.
Caregiving is like being in love. When it happens to you it changes your entire life, and the emotions are so overpowering that you think you must be the first person in the world ever to feel this way.
In fact, though, what you’re going through has been experienced probably millions of times before. It’s just that, until recently, nobody talked about it much. Or, at least, talked about some of the tougher aspects.
So I’ve tried to drag these things into the sunlight. The list of contents of the Selfish Pig’s Guide runs like this:
- Why care at all?
- What if you didn’t care?
- You’re on your own
- Are you the one who needs looking after?
- Remember you’re a professional
- Officialdom and Chaos Theory
- Your body
- Your mind
- Pushing them down the stairs
- New money
- The hands on the clock
- Give me a break
- The independence catch
- Is there anyone out there?
- The messy stuff
- Getting information
- Tips which the experts don’t give you
- Young carers